Friday, August 9, 2013

Godzilla (1954)

WHO: Eiji Tsuburaya was the mastermind behind the visual effects in this film.

WHAT: The biggest movie ever produced in Japan in 1954 (taking that crown from the just-released Seven Samurai, another film featuring actor Takeshi Shimura and produced at the Toho studio under production chief Iwao Mori), the original Godzilla was like no film made before it. It's also like no Godzilla film made since; for one it's the only film in the 28-entry series in which Godzilla is the lone monster star; all subsequent productions faced him off against another kaiju creation like Mothra or Rodan or King Ghidorah or all of the above at once. It's also the only Godzilla film to feature the beautiful black-and-white compositional creations of cinematographer Masao Tamai, who shot so many masterpieces for the great director Mikio Naruse in the 1950s. 

But the most lasting achievements of the film can be put at the feet of effects wizard Tsuburaya, the subject of one of the most attractive and informative books in my collection, by local author August Ragone. Here's an excerpt of what Ragone says about the first Godzilla movie:
Originally, Tsuburaya wanted to bring the nuclear nightmare to life using stop-motion effects, as King Kong had been made. When asked how long it would take to produce such effects, Tsuburaya told Mori it would take seven years to shoot all of the effects required by the screenplay, based on the current staff and infrastructure of at Toho. Of course this was out of the question--the film had to be in theatres by the end of the year. Tsuburaya decided that his department's considerable expertise in miniature building and visual effects photography could accommodate working with a live actor in a monster costume instead of using stop-motion techniques. 
WHERE/WHEN: Tonight only at Oakland's Paramount Theatre at 8:00.

WHY: I recently wrote about how my disappointment in Pacific Rim stoked a desire to see the original Japanese giant monster movie again, especially considering it's coming to the kaiju-sized Paramount screen for only five dollars. I won't repeat all of that again here, but I will stress that a full house at the theatre tonight would be a great signal that not only is Godzilla fandom alive and well here on Frisco Bay, but that there's considerable interest in seeing films from other countries enter the rotation of Paramount Movie Classics, which as long as I can remember have always been drawn from a rather narrow slate of Hollywood productions (the August 23rd showing of North By Northwest is at least the third showing of that film in that venue in the past ten years or so, for example.)

True diehards can make this a real kaiju weekend in Oakland, as the New Parkway is screening King Kong Vs. Godzilla Sunday August 11th, with an introduction by the aforementioned Japanese cinema expert Ragone.

Finally, it seems worth mentioning that the Pacific Film Archive's ongoing tribute to the Japanese animation world's most respected company, Studio Ghibli, includes a few films with giant monsters in them as well. The series has been popular enough that the venue has decided to add an extra screening of My Neighbor Totoro August 25th, I've never heard Totoro referred to as a kaiju, but he's got to be the only giant Japanese creature that might rival the Big G in international popularity.

HOW: Godzilla screens in its original Japanese-language version, via 35mm print from Rialto Pictures, and will be preceded by at least one cartoon, newsreel, and trailer, all also in 35mm.

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